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Understanding gender inequality in the workplace

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

In recent years, gender inequality has become a hot topic for many organizations and world-class leaders. Gender equality plays an important role in ensuring that all members of our society have equal treatment and opportunities in all areas of their lives, enabling them to reach their full potential and thrive. Contrary to popular beliefs, gender inequality not only affects women, it also affects men. In this article, we take a look at how gender inequality affects several issues at work, and provide some suggestions as to how organizations can potentially overcome these issues.

The gender pay gap

Numerous studies have shown that female employees are paid lower wages than men. This stems from the idea that women are less competent than their male counterparts in the same area of work and thus tend to underperform. Furthermore, the idea that women occupy less of a role as a breadwinner in the family and are thus relegated to supportive duties, further reinforces the divide. Lower wages, coupled with the prevailing view that women are inferior to men puts women at a disadvantage on the pay scale. Many women end up making efforts and sacrifices that are not otherwise required by their male counterparts to achieve parity in wages.

This is made worse by the fact that women are often frowned upon for taking additional time-offs to focus on their family. Meanwhile, a man who spends less time at work and chooses to prioritize his family is viewed as incompetent and inferior to his coworkers, and this is greatly reflected in the paternity vs. maternity leave debate. This forces men to adopt the stereotype of the breadwinner, stripping them of any opportunity to play an active role being the caretaker to their family.

Suggestions: Organizations can promote awareness about Equal Pay Day, a symbolic day that serves to educate employees on the struggles that women and men have to endure to achieve wage parity. Next, the HR and hiring managers should help promote transparent and healthy discussions about pay scales to reduce the gender pay gap, which reduces the stigma surrounding talks about pay. If you are an employee and you suspect a coworker of being underpaid due to gender issues, speak up. Lending your voice to them ensures that they will receive the attention and recognition they need to fight for the pay that they deserve.

Negative word association with genders

Consider the following scenario in which an employer was asked to rate two employees on their work performance.

“She is an aggressive salesperson who gives 120% at work.”

“He is a go-getter who strives to deliver the best performance in his team.”

Here’s another example…

“He is hypersensitive to his team’s needs, quick to address any difficulty that may arise in the team, However, equal emphasis should be given to driving team results.”

“She is an empathic leader who prioritizes the wellbeing of her employees, she is careful to ensure the mental and physical wellness of her coworkers.”

Aggressive vs. Go-getter. Hypersensitive vs. Empathic. Both employees are described with words that carry negative connotations when they exhibit traits or behaviors that defy their gender norms. Here are some further examples of gender stereotypical words.

A man is said to be…

​A woman is said to be…

​If someone speaks their mind…



If someone frequently expresses their emotions…



​If someone exhibits gentle behaviors…



​If someone is unfriendly at work…



It’s important to note that words are neutral and are not gender-specific. . That said, we need to be mindful of our words and ensure that we are not serving to perpetuate gender inequality at work.

Suggestions: Organizations can encourage employees to be mindful of their words when engaging coworkers of the similar or opposite sex in their daily conversations. The management can also organize workshops focusing on communication skills that seek to raise awareness about gender stereotypes in conversations.

The lack of diversity in leadership roles

It has been statistically proven that women occupy fewer leadership roles than men worldwide. The assumption that women are emotional and thus, less capable of making objective decisions adds to the skewed perception of female leaders. This results in lesser career advancements for women. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that there is a greater need for female leaders, especially when there is greater importance placed on mental wellbeing in organizations. A female leader also brings a different perspective to the table, which leads to a diversity of views, increased innovation and creativity at work, and therefore better work productivity. Consider these female leaders who have successfully spearheaded their country in the prevention and curbing of Covid-19 - Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, Tsai-ing Wen and Mette Frederiksen. Jacinda Ardern, in particular, has been praised for her efforts in promoting traits such as kindness, empathy and altruism, qualities that have successfully enabled New Zealand to come out on top of the battle against Covid-19.

Suggestions: The management should Invest in executive training for women and identify potential female employees for succession planning. Furthermore, the HR can utilize more skill-based assessments and inventory to recruit competent female employees to create fair competition between male and female employees. Lastly, the management has to promote and drive the need for female leadership at work by promoting awareness surrounding female leaders and their importance to the organization.

Lack of flexible work arrangements

Today, many people have increasingly found it hard to juggle between work and their personal lives, which has raised the need for remote working arrangements, and this is particularly important for women. The fact that Covid-19 is now a norm in our lives further cements the fact that it is here to stay. Flexible work arrangements encourage increased participation in the labor force by women, as they are now able to work AND manage household duties concurrently. Concurrently, this also leads to improved diversity at work. Meanwhile, men benefit from the movement by being able to help out their spouses at home, allowing them to play a more active role in the family.

Suggestions: The organization can encourage remote working styles among its employees by actively promoting the need for work-life balance in the company.

Increased mental health issues at work

Employees who experience gender discrimination at work are prone to developing mental health issues such as prolonged stress, anxiety, anger and depression in their lives. This can lead to increased workplace conflicts, thereby causing unintended divisions at work, which can lead to decreased workplace morale and therefore, a lower organizational productivity overall. When unaddressed, mental health issues can potentially result in massive lawsuits that may incur reputational damage to the company and threaten existing employees’ jobs, which creates further mental unrest for all parties affected.

Suggestions: Organizations can promote awareness around gender inequality and workplace discrimination and how these may affect workplace harmony. Workshops and Employment Assistance Programs (EAP) are particularly helpful in this area. Furthermore, organizations can enforce and implement strict policies against workplace discrimination, harrassment and inequality to help curb stigma around gender inequality.


Overcoming gender inequality at work is a collective effort. With that in mind, let’s all do our part in reducing gender stigma and ensuring a psychologically and physically safe workplace for colleagues of all genders!

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